Monday, April 27, 2015

There is an Ocean in my Soul Where the Waters do not Curve (F-Zero)

Anna Wiggins will be contributing a guest post for each year's worth of games covered in the Super Nintendo Project. For 1991, she's talking about F-Zero.

It begins with sound. When I think about F-Zero, it is the soundtrack that sticks in my mind. Where other games I had played had background music, F-Zero had songs. Big Blue was the most memorable. These memories are pleasant. This music has been a part of my internal soundtrack for most of my life, occasionally earworming in over the years, always an oddly comforting sense memory.

And this sort of sound was unprecedented. The number of bits in a gaming system was on the one hand meaningless to me; at seven years old, I had no idea what the technical difference between an “8-bit system” and a “16-bit system” were. But on the other hand these terms held an iconic power; clearly the SNES was twice as powerful, and so its games would be twice as cool. If I’d had a little more knowledge, I probably would have expected them to be 256 times as cool.

So this, for me, was my first real taste of what “16-bit sound” could do. I was hooked, and after this game music became a much larger part of how I judged games.


(What I didn’t know at the time was that the SNES made considerable improvements to the NES’ sound system, beyond just doubling the size of all the registers. The SNES came equipped with a separate dedicated co-processor for audio processing, the S-SMP, which meant game programmers could spend more cycles doing software manipulation of sound samples without affecting the game’s performance. Separate graphics processing chips were common in consoles already, but a coprocessor dedicated to audio was a leap forward for sound capability, and allowed for a lot of the richness in sound that jumped out at me here.)

Next comes light. This game looked great, with an initially dizzying faux-3d effect that pivoted around as the player’s car turned. I remember being amazed by this, and it’s what made me want to play the game, despite racing games not being the sort of thing I’m naturally inclined to play.

(F-Zero and Pilotwings were both basically tech demos for Mode 7 graphics, though I didn't actually come across the term Mode 7 until much later, when SquareSoft ran television advertisements for Final Fantasy III. “Mode 7” was Nintendo’s great technical superiority claim for the SNES, a counterpoint to Sega’s “Blast Processing”. It sounds less impressive than Blast Processing, and indeed, described from a technical standpoint, it sounds like a fairly humble feature. However, unlike Blast Processing, it can be described from a technical perspective. The SNES graphics hardware had 8 different “modes” for drawing backgrounds, numbered 0-7. (Programmers always start counting from 0. It makes us feel special.) If you know just enough about computer graphics processing to be dangerous, it may seem strange that backgrounds were handled differently than anything else, but console graphics chips at the time had built-in notions about ‘backgrounds’ (things that didn’t move) versus ‘sprites’. (things that did move) Mode 7 was a mode where the background could be rendered in a way that imitated 3d perspective, and quickly rotated and transformed to keep up this illusion as the sprites moved. Really, like everything else in graphics programming, this just required some clever matrix algebra.)

Finally, tactile sensation. These memories come last, because I spent a lot more time watching and listening to F-Zero than I did playing. The SNES controller was still slightly oversized in my hands in late 1991. My fingers struggling to get used to the shoulder buttons. I never actually figured out how to use the shoulder buttons effectively in F-Zero. In truth, I was pretty bad at video games.

(The SNES controller wasn't that different from the NES controller, all things considered: it had 4 new buttons, but that was all. But this added complexity, and it was part of a trend that continued until controller design more or less settled into the modern Xbox / Playstation style. As controllers got more complicated, the learning curve for video game systems got steeper, which in turn shifted the target age for gaming consoles. In other words, video games grew up with me. Where the Mario, Zelda, and even Sonic franchises were aimed at a pre-teen demographic, Halo and Call of Duty are geared solidly toward late teens and college students. The 18-35 demographic rules, now.)

I always had to share the SNES console with my older brother, and often with my cousins and my brother’s friends. They were almost all older than me, and better at video games. And so I was well accustomed to the ritual of taking turns at video games.

This did not work equally well for all games, though. Fighting games were easy - they were two player, they were over quickly, and controllers changed hands between each fight. Super Mario World, with its save data and repeatable challenges, we conquered cooperatively. But F-Zero was a game with a number of continues and no saveable progress. Which meant the standing rule was ‘play until game over, then switch’.

So, being bad at the game meant I got to play for about 10 minutes at a time, often followed by an hour or more before I got another turn. So, playing F-Zero, I learned how to enjoy watching other people play video games. This was a defense mechanism and a rationalization; watching was a consolation prize, and on some level I knew it. Eventually it developed into a legitimate interest, and broadened into a general love of watching people do things they are good at. But not in 1991. In 1991, it was just frustrating.

I was 7 years old in 1991. My primary pastimes were reading, playing with Lego, and playing video games. All of my hobbies were things that could be enjoyed alone. You might reasonably (and correctly) infer that I didn't have many friends.

When I did try to engage with other children, it didn't usually end well. I was ‘weird’, or ‘annoying’, and social interactions often led to conflicts I didn't understand. This pushed me further and further into solitary activities. I wasn't unhappy, though. The depression and hopelessness that came with the surge of testosterone into my body was still a few years away. Yes, I was bullied and shamed for being the weird kid. But I didn't particularly care. I had books, and video games, and a whole world of private stories and secret histories. I was alone, but I wasn't lonely.

But video games were a solitary activity centered around a finite resource; something I enjoyed but had to share. And F-Zero was an example where that sharing didn't work well, so my memories of it are intertwined with frustration and tension. Whenever I picked up the controller, I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to play again for a long time. This made playing stressful, because every mistake brought me closer to another long wait. The consequences of failing were disproportionate. This made the game less fun. And so, ultimately, my engagement with this game was short. I started declining my turn. No, I’ll just watch. I’d rather go play outside, anyway.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

High Sparrow

Game of Thrones Season Five reviews are supported by my backers on Patreon. We crossed $300 this week, so I'll be doing the whole season. Assuming, you know, that nobody backs out or anything. There's a new milestone at $310, however, for a bonus post on the episode leaks of Doctor Who Season Seven. Which might be interesting to Game of Thrones fans as well, all things considered. 

State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly.

The Lion, Tyrion Lannister
Lions of King's Landing: Cersei Lannister, Tommen Baratheon
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Mockingbirds of Moat Cailin: Petyr Baelish
Roses of King's Landing: Margery Tyrell
Burning Hearts of the Wall: Stannis Baratheon
Ships of the Wall: Davos Seaworth
The Spider, Lord Varys
Kraken of Winterfell: Reek
Direwolves of Moat Cailin: Sansa Stark
Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark
Archers of the Wall: Samwell Tarly
Shields of Moat Cailin: Brienne of Tarth
Coins of Braavos: No one
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Roose Bolton, Ramsey Bolton
With the Bear, Jorah Mormont

Meereen is vacant.

The episode is in eleven parts. The first part is three minutes long and is set in Braavos. The opening image is of one of the many statues of gods' faces in the House of Black and White.

The second is seven minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by hard cut, from Arya to an establishing shot of the city.

The third is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by hard cut, from Cersei looking angry to Bolton men outside

The fourth is nine minutes long and is set at Moat Cailin. The transition is by dialogue, from Roose Bolton talking about Ramsey's forthcoming marriage to Sansa, his bride-to-be.

The fifth is four minutes long and is set on the Wall. The transition is by dialogue, from Brienne talking about Stannis to Stannis.

The sixth is six minutes long and is set in Braavos. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Arya Stark.

The seventh is two minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, from Arya to Sansa.

The eighth is five minutes long and is set on the Wall. The transition is by family, from Sansa to Jon Snow.

The ninth is seven minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by image, from the ritual of execution for Janos Slynt to the High Septon's ritualistic sex game.

The tenth is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by causation, from Qyburn writing a message for Littlefinger to the scene where he receives it.

The eleventh is seven minutes long and is set in Volantis. The transition is by hard cut, from Littlefinger to an establishing shot of Tyrion and Varys's cart outside the city. The final shot is of Jorah Mormont capturing Tyrion Lannister.

Review

There is not quite such a thing as a default pattern for Game of Thrones, simply because the show's basic function depends so heavily on breaking the pattern - for instance, by putting the Purple Wedding in the second episode of the fourth season, thus defying expectations about the speed at which a season gets off to a start. But if you were to suggest a generalized pattern for a season, the third episode would be a point of drastic acceleration.

Certainly that is the case here. Most obviously, the hinted becomes actual as we realize that Sansa is going to be taking on the Jeyne Poole plot from the books and marry Ramsey Bolton. This is the marquee change, and one that is easy to see doing poorly, but certainly possible to see doing amazingly. The obvious peril is that it's a rehash of Sansa and Joffrey. We've seen Sansa and a sadistic husband with power over her before. What we haven't seen, though, is Sansa doing this from a position of power, in Winterfell. The random servant who whispers to her that the North remembers makes it clear that this is not King's Landing, and Ramsey is presented, in a real sense, as hopelessly out of his depth, only knowing one tactic (flay people). If this is the story we're doing, and Sansa is going to be the self-rescuing princess, well, that's really tempting.

And certainly the number of extra layers involved is tempting. Sansa as the self-rescuing princess endangered by Ramsey and the Boltons around her as Stannis sieges Winterfell and Brienne lurks about the edges of the story looking for an opportunity to kill Stannis is... absolutely fantastic television. Not least because for the first time in Game of Thrones nobody can say with any confidence how that set of elements is going to interact and play out.

Elsewhere the plots proceed more book-predictably, but in every case there's a sense of a show that's finally starting to enjoy the potential of its premises. Arya is, I think, the plot that works least well this episode - simply put, she's not really given much to do, instead suffering the common fate of Game of Thrones characters whereby they are suddenly deserted by all of their competence so as to make sure they don't accidentally advance the plot. (The lowlight here is surely Arya asking which of the many faces in the House of Black and White is the Many-Faced God. Really, Arya?) But even here there's a moment of genuine beauty in her inability to throw away Needle and her hiding of it. Not only does it set up the inevitable moment of her reclaiming it (and it's safe to say that there has never been a scene of Arya reclaiming Needle that has not been wonderful), but it captures the conflict and plot driving her character perfectly in a single image.

The Wall is similarly full of good images: The Jon Snow/Janos Slynt execution is both a fun scene (the cut back to Jon finishing his ale before he goes out is hilarious) and one that sells the fun of "Jon Snow as Lord Commander." But I actually prefer the scene of him telling Stannis that he's grooming his page for command, all earnest and confident, simply because Stephen Dillane is secretly a brilliant comic actor.

And, of course, there's Cersei in King's Landing. Her scene with Margery, in which Margery throws masterful shade ("it's a little early for us" indeed), is a thing of absolute beauty - probably the single best sequence in the story. But so is her follow-up - her spectacularly ill-advised alliance with the High Sparrow, which the show doesn't belabor the idiocy of, instead simply depicting her actions and letting the audience pick up on the sheer folly of them. (Contrast with Littlefinger, where the show contrives to have him interact directly with his obvious mistake, admitting that he doesn't know much about Ramsey Bolton to his face.) This is, thus far, the plot with the least said and the most shades of subtlety, mostly to its strength.

I have, obviously, left Tyrion out of the mix so far, mainly to set up a nice sort of structural thing where I open and close talking about the use of the unknown. Tyrion's plot was heavily altered in the first episode via the excising of an ill-advised subplot about an obviously fake Aegon Targaryen. And this, in turn, called into some doubt over where it would go from there. So the use of Jorah to suddenly take the plot back towards the book is clever. For those who haven't read the books - i.e. essentially the entire audience - it's a great game-changing twist of the sort that makes good cliffhangers. But it manages to be surprising for those who have as well, simply because the show has by this point engineered circumstances where fealty to the books is a form of surprise. Which is, again, a terribly exciting place to be.

So on the whole, by some margin the best episode of the season so far, simply because it's the first one to move past setup and into demonstrating the appeal of this particular configuration of the board.

Shall we start ranking episodes? It was fun for Doctor Who.

1. High Sparrow
2. The Wars to Come
3. The House of Black and White

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Waffling (April 25th, 2015)

These Saturday Waffling posts are ostensibly sponsored by my >$5 a week patrons at Patreon, but only like five of them ever gave me links to what they'd like me to plug for them, so now I'm just unabashedly trying to shame the rest into giving me them so I don't just have to link Eric Rosenfield's site week after week after week.

First off, I'm pleased to announce that not only did we hit the $290 threshold for "High Sparrow," we've reached $300, which means I'll be reviewing all ten episodes of Game of Thrones Season Five. I'm intrigued by this "small milestones leading directly to extra content" idea, so if the Patreon makes it to $310, I'll bang up one of the essays that would otherwise wait for the Capaldi book (which in turn will wait for there to be an end in sight to Capaldi's tenure), namely "Outside the Government: Marcelo Camargo," a look at the leaked workprints and their implications for Doctor Who, television, and anything else that comes to mind.

Second off, thanks to everyone for the very generous response to my Hugos piece. I am especially flattered by the people who said they'd be nominating it in next year's Hugos. My current thinking, very much subject to change, is that I'll knock together a small book containing it, Recursive Occlusion, and some other short pieces and aim to get that out this year along with Eruditorum Volume 6. (I'll probably do this in lieu of a wide release of Recursive Occlusion's standalone "art book" version, which you can still buy here.)

And third off, since it seemed a popular aspect of "Guided By the Beauty of Their Weapons," I'm curious: who had heard of Janelle Monáe before that piece? Who has gone and looked at more than just one song? What songs of hers do people like? Why is she so awesome? And have you seen her latest video?


Friday, April 24, 2015

Poverty Reduction Programme (The Last War in Albion Part 93: Song of the Terraces, After They Were Famous)

This is the fifth of eleven parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Ten, focusing on Alan Moore's Bojeffries Saga. An omnibus of all eleven parts is available on Smashwords. If you are a Kickstarter backer or a Patreon backer at $2 or higher per week, instructions on how to get your complimentary copy have been sent to you.

The Bojeffries Saga is available in a collected edition that can be purchased in the US or in the UK.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: The second major run of The Bojeffries Saga came in the magazine A1, and concluded with a strip called "Song of the Terraces."

"The Hoop was a massive dead end in which to dump America's unemployed. Called a 'Poverty Reduction Programme', it didn't reduce poverty... it just meant that people no longer had to look at the poor. If you lost your job you were moved to the Hoop, where you lived on a state-provided credit-card system called MAM until you found employment. Except that there wasn't any employment." - Alan Moore, The Ballad of Halo Jones

Figure 709: The symphony grows more complex. (Written
by Alan Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from "Song of the
Terraces," in A1 #4, 1990)
Described as “a light opera with libretto by Mr. A. Moore and full orchestration by Mr. S. Parkhouse,” the strip is formatted as a musical, beginning with the chant of a paperboy as he walks down the terraced street, identifying the paper of choice of each house he walks past: “Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Guardian, Sun.” He is quickly joined by further paperboys, taking up his chorus and adding in descriptions of the papers’ contents: “Page three, transfer fee, ‘Is your man a sex bomb?’/ Which M.P.’s been compromised outside a Gent’s in Wrexham? / Outrage, sports page, ‘Di: her secret vices!’, / Someone out of Neighbours whose domestic life’s in crisis…” In time the original paperboy takes up a new verse, imploring the reader to, “when letter boxes snap / pity the little chap / who does not write the crap / but is its victim. / For while the world’s asleep / he works to earn his keep / lest, with poll-tax so steep / his folks evict him.” 

Figure 710: The symphony concludes. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from "Song of the Terraces,"
in A1 #4, 1990)
At this point, things really get going as the first actual member of the Bojeffries family appears, with Raoul stepping out and singing his own tune about going to work, with other men quickly joining in and singing about how “we’ve little dicks and big dogs / and we’re not too fond of nig-nogs / but we whistle as we make our way to work” as Raoul proclaims, “At veekends I vill shop for shelving down at M.F.I. / or vatch a fourth diwision team at play / I’d like to vin der futball pools und then retire und die / so I vhistle as I go to vherk each day!” As their section finishes, out gomes Ginda, who begins a verse singing that “there are six hundred women in this council cattle pen / with nought in common save for their biology, / who thus in conversation tend to stick to kids and men / and other horrid facts of gynecology.” Her verse quickly turns to a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade, as “on into the Valium and the shadow of Dreft rode the six hundred,” at which point Ginda’s song takes on a structure of describing these women: “Six hundred scratched recordings of Ken Dodd and “Happiness” / six hundred breakdowns, and, when life is done / six hundred lame obituaries in the local press / that read:” ‘the angels called and off went Mum.’” Meanwhile, the women of the estate begin their own verse in parallel with Ginda’s, singing of how “the three-piece-suite we bought last week will probably see us out / Life’s Mills and Boon must reach its final pages / We think Death sounds quite nice: we’ve no idea what Life’s about / and we haven’t had a good lie-in for ages.” Next up are the car alarms, proclaiming their basic futility, at which point Ginda, the paperboys, Raoul, and the men and women of the estate all return, singing in parallel until, in unison, they all proclaim “THIS IS OUR TERRACE SYMPHONEEEEEE!!,” at which point Jobremus leans out the window and tells them off for making such noise.

The strip is notable in several regards. First is simply its structural inventiveness - it is by some margin the most technically accomplished Bojeffries Saga strip. It also, more than any other Bojeffries Saga story, gives Steve Parkhouse the extended opportunity to draw architecture, given that it is set in the street, such that a row of terraced houses is the backdrop for nearly every panel - indeed, the strip features a credit offering “special thanks to Raymond and Fiona of Architects Plus.” But in some ways more important is the general change in tone that “Song of the Terraces” demonstrates - a turn away from a sort of nostalgic lampooning of working class Britain and towards something much angrier and more directly cynical. Moore notes that “there’s always been a cutting edge to the Bojeffries,” specifically noting the commentary on racism in “Raoul’s Night Out,” but adds that “generally in the early stories, the humour is probably more affectionate, I think. Even while I am rueing the horrific institution of the works night out, I can still find something kind of dopey and endearing about it, whereas in the later ones,” he explains, he has generally “become less tolerant about some of the things that I think are ridiculous or even repulsive about culture.”

This becomes even more pronounced in the final and longest Bojeffries Saga strip, “After They Were Famous.” This strip, first published in the Top Shelf/Knockabout collection of The Bojeffries Saga, had a long genesis - the project dates to around 2008, and the story is set in 2009, when the script was finished, but Parkhouse took considerable time illustrating the twenty-four pages, and it did not actually come out until 2014, more than twenty years after “Our Factory Fortnight.” The delay between script and art was, in some ways, fortuitous, as it meant that The Bojeffries Saga retained its slight remove from time - talking about the way in which the early installments looked at a rapidly vanishing culture, Moore noted, in an interview to promote the 2014 collection, that “even in the most up to date story, Big Brother is still on Channel 4 and David Cameron is still in opposition. It’s these ephemeral things about our culture and the way it’s changed over the years that end up being the most poignant things about the Bojeffries.” But poignant is, in some ways, an odd term for “After They Were Famous,” a strip that is absolutely withering in its assessment of the culture of its time.

Figure 711: The dilapidated ruins of the
Bojeffries family home. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, in The
Bojeffries Saga
, 2014)
The central premise of “After They Were Famous” is straightforward - the strip simply makes the time jump implicit in waiting from 1991 to 2009 to do a new strip, and explores what might have happened to the Bojeffries int he intervening years. This opens with a Channel 4 documentary purporting to give an update on the family, starting with a set of six television-shaped panels as the documentary starts, and then cutting to a splash page of the derelict Bojeffries family home, one of the strip’s few really big pieces of architecture, and a clear comment on the fundamental decline of the cultural institutions The Bojeffries Saga originally existed to satirize. Indeed, this sense of decay is tangible throughout the strip, with Parkhouse’s art style having evolved over the thirty years of the Bojeffries Saga, moving away from both the ornate detail and cartoonish clarity of the early strips and towards a much scratchier, rougher style. “After They Were Famous” also forgoes the straight black and white style of most of the previous Bojeffries Saga strips, instead going with a grey ink wash that is often coarsely applied, giving the strip a splotchy, slightly disheveled look that, while slightly off-putting at first glance, is an effective match for the sense of cultural decay implicit to the strip. 

Figure 712: Ginda Bojeffries snaps David Cameron's neck.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from "After
They Were Famous," in The Bojeffries Saga, 2014)
From this opening, the strip goes through a fairly linear account of the current fates of the family, with varying degrees of entertainment value. Reth has become a wealthy author on the back of a memoir about his family, which led to his ostracization and the family’s relative disintegration. Jobremus has simply made a generational shift in British poverty, living in a tower block with a woman named Shardnee and her five children, sitting, clad in a tracksuit, on a dilapidated sofa giving an interview as Shardnee eats first the bulk of a pizza and then the box it came in, and one of her children tells him “You’re a paedo. Gimme your mobile or I’ll tell mum you’re a paedo and then she’ll well stab you up, you paedo,” a demand Jobremus unhesitatingly gives in to. Festus, under the name Britney Sutcliffe, is the vocalist for the goth band Pram of Shit, Boiby is now providing power to most of England and Wales, and Ginda is a Labour MP with a propensity for snapping necks in the name of parliamentary debate. 

Figure 713: Raoul walks through the rapidly changing
landscape of contemporary Britain. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Steve Parkhouse, from "After They Were Famous," in
The Bojeffries Saga, 2014)
Finally, having introduced all of this, the strip cuts to Raoul, happily oblivious to the entire world around him, when he runs into Colin and Sheena from “Raoul’s Night Out.” Sheena, it transpires, has been a contestant on Big Brother since her last appearance (She remarks that “they adored me having **** off on my forehead. I mean, thank heavens it wasn’t ‘fuck’.”), and they encourage Raoul to give it a try, given that Slesidge & Harbruck went out of business fifteen years ago because “nobody could remember what staunchion grinding was.” Raoul returns to the Bojeffries house, which is demolished as he sleeps, and, after wandering through London (a sequence that provided Moore’s favorite moment of the strip, a panel “of him walking down a flooded street, up to his waist in water, with all the Police rescue boats helping people in the background. Then in the next panel he’s in a different part of town, where he’s dripping wet but there’s no water. He doesn’t appear to have noticed the town is flooded, because he wouldn’t, as he’s Uncle Raoul. On the other hand there was something in that panel that seemed to me to speak to the fact that the landscape around us is altering now with blinding speed and we take that blinding speed of change as the norm and we try to deal with that and get along as normal, even if the situation around us is becoming increasingly abnormal. I know that’s a lot to read into a single panel and it was certainly not what I intended when I wrote it, but the way it came out there was something poignant in that, that we are walking through a flood without a care in the world.”), makes it to the Big Brother auditions, where he gets brought on to Celebrity Big Brother due to the mistaken impression that he’s Meryl Streep (who apparently played him in the disastrous film adaptation). Indeed, it turns out that this year’s edition of Celebrity Big Brother simply consists of the entire Bojeffries clan, in a perfect reconstruction of their old house, which turns out to be the doing of Podlasp, now a television executive. After a few pages of mining this for humor (Festus, for instance, quickly murders Reth for his book), the strip ends, with a familiar caption box narrating that “as our plummeting standards meet the rising ocean coming the other way, we kiss England on the cheek and say goodnight… and then, come the morning, we leave silently before England awakens. Because she’s a minger.” 

While the differences between “After They Were Famous” and “The Rentman Cometh” are non-trivial, in most regards it is the similarities that are most apparent. The strips demonstrate a lifelong fascination with the working class culture of the United Kingdom - an aspect both of Moore’s background and career that is on the one hand essential to any thorough understanding of him, and on the other at least relatively difficult to discern from any of the major works from this phase of the War. Class issues are certainly relevant with some frequency - they’re quietly at the heart of both Skizz and D.R. & Quinch, and lurk in the background of Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta, for instance. But they are not issues that leap from the page and announce themselves as major concerns upon even a casual reading as they do in The Bojeffries Saga

This, in turn, reveals a larger flaw in the basic idea of attempting to understand Moore and the War through the lens of the “major works.” A narrative of Moore’s cultural conquest that begins with Roscoe Moscow and continues up through his breaking out into the American market and the commissioning of Watchmen is easy enough to construct, and is even a true story, such as it were. But its truth comes from the fact that it is constructed from a point well into the War, after the consequences of the early skirmishes have largely played out - it is a truth, in other words, based on selecting the historical events that ended up having the most future impact, not on describing the events of the early 80s as they seemed to be happening at the time. In the fog of war, before it was clear to anybody that there even was a War, there was no such narrative of steady ascent. There was only a young man in Northampton trying to feed his family through means other than jobs he found soul-destroying. And so alongside the road from Sounds to Swamp Thing is another altogether more idiosyncratic path - one that contains many more things like The Bojeffries Saga, many of them just as fascinating.

Figure 714: The 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual
featuring BJ (left) and the Bear (right).
For instance, in 1981 before Warrior had even launched, when his career consisted of The Stars My Degradation, Maxwell the Magic Cat, his Doctor Who work, and his earliest Future Shocks, Moore had a gig writing and illustrating text pieces for Grandreams’s 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual. BJ and the Bear was an American television series about a trucker (BJ) who drove around the country with his pet chimpanzee (Bear) that debuted with a pilot movie in October of 1978 and wrapped up in May of 1981 forty-eight episodes later. Its British 1982 Annual was, in other words, a marginal piece of cultural ephemera even when it was printed at the end of 1981. It did, however, contain a three page illustrated glossary of trucker slang compiled by Alan Moore that helpfully informed readers that “keep your nose between the ditches and Smokey out of your britches” meant “drive safely,” [continued]

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Comics Reviews (April 22nd, 2015)

Theodore Beale has responded to yesterday's post. I'd link it and say not to read the comments, but honestly, why read the article. There's some other highlights on my Tumblr. Which I bet, by linking here, I'm going to get some fantastic asks to ignore soon.

Comics, from worst to best of what I voluntarily paid for via what a commenter on Theodore Beale's blog calls "e-begging on Patreon." (Which is still $2 off from a review on "High Sparrow" come Sunday.)

The Black Vortex: Omega

Man, I love the word "Omega" instead of issue numbers. Kitty Pryde as literal Manic Dark Cosmic Power Dream Girl. This should never have been thirteen issues long. It was preposterously dumb. But its resolution is at least interesting in a general sense of being a thing that will probably be retconned by Secret Wars anyway. 

Lazarus #16

A somewhat self-consciously clever interstitial issue to let Michael Lark catch up with the schedule. Fine, although I'm not sure it works satisfyingly after a self-consciously clever arc finale - Rucka's pop virtues are not quite so virtuosic as this requires. He's an album man, not a singles man. Nothing wrong with this issue, but not why this book is in my pulls either. 

Guardians of the Galaxy #26

I see we've caught up with Secret Wars. Which is, once again, unsettling more than exciting - this issue sets up a lovely premise. Then it ends by going into a series that at best puts that premise on hold for several months. I mean, I'm not saying I think it's going to suck, but I have to say, April is not doing wonders for my excitement on this series. In particular, I continue to think the pacing of Hickman's Avengers issues was wonky - the fact that there's no actual Secret Wars content coming out for the last few weeks is making the rest of Marvel feel disposable. There's no swagger or confidence to this. 

Chew #48

Chew continues its frustrating trend of being good enough, often enough that I don't drop it. 

All-New X-Men #40

This has generated some deserved controversy online over accusations of bisexual erasure. You can see, in the full issue, why Bendis thinks that accusation is misjudged. I'm very much unconvinced, simply because there's still nothing motivating the decision to make Iceman, as he rather awkwardly puts it, "full gay" as opposed to bisexual. There's nothing gained by having Iceman be gay instead of bi, and there's plenty of implication that bisexual people are just gays who lack conviction, which is a bullshit stereotype. 

In any case, the sense of momentum leading into Bendis's big X-finale is satisfying. 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Nobody is ever going to write a better line for Galactus than "Thanks, Tippy-Toe," except of course, for Ryan North, who writes numerous other lines of similar quality for Galactus in the course of his defeat at the hands of Squirrel-Girl. (This is not spoiling the ending, since the title of the book pretty much guarantees it.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: An Analysis of Theodore Beale and his Supporters

Although this post is not specifically funded by my Patreon backers, this site and my work in general would not be possible without their support. While you're here, you might also check out yesterday's debut of the Super Nintendo Project, my sixteen bit magical ritual to destroy Gamergate, or The Last War in Albion, my ongoing critical history of British comics. 

Also, comments on this have crossed the threshold where they all appear on one page - at the bottom of the page, under the "add new comment" box, you'll see the poorly laid out "Load more" link that will load all comments. Frankly, the discussion is great throughout, so please feel free to defy the usually correct wisdom of the Internet and read the comments.

Right. It’s probably about time to collect all the issues and discussion of the 2015 Hugo Awards into one big post that is, at least in terms of what I have to say, a definitive take on it. A long read, to be sure, but one that will hopefully manage to cover everything important and give a clear sense of the issues and their implications.

One note that is probably worth making before we begin - I am writing this with the assumption of a basically sympathetic audience who have heard bits of the disturbing story, but who aren’t clear on the whole picture. It’s meant to be persuasive to people who are, broadly speaking, left-leaning (or at least not far-right) fans of intelligent and literary science fiction, and who are not generally of the opinion that there was ever anything badly wrong with the Hugo Awards. This is not to say “someone who agrees absolutely with the Hugo Awards,” as such a person presumably does not exist, awards being like that, but it is to say “someone who thinks the Hugo Awards have gone to generally reasonable selections over the past five years.”

Correspondingly, it is not expected to be in the least bit persuasive to people who think Theodore Beale to be an intelligent and respectable figure worth taking seriously. It is not an attempt to argue with them. For reasons that will I think become clear as the post goes on, I do not think arguing with them is a particularly worthwhile pursuit. In any case, off we go, first with a primer on what we’re actually talking about here.
  1. What Happened with the Hugos
  2. What Puppies Want
  3. The Unbelievable Noxiousness of Theodore Beale
  4. On Fascism
  5. Trolling the Voice of God
  6. In Which Several Very Lousy Pieces of Science Fiction (And One Lovely Story About Dinosaurs) Are Analyzed in Depth
  7. Notes On the Proper Handling of a Rabid Dog
  8. God Will Bury You. Nature Will Bury You.
  9. I Want To Thank You For Dancing To The End
Part One: What Happened with the Hugos

For decades, the Hugo Awards have been one of the leading awards in science fiction. This year, the Hugo nomination process was effectively taken over by two related groups who employed a controversial set of tactics that were legal but had not previously been employed in the over sixty year history of the Hugo Awards due to generally being considered unsporting and in poor taste.

Hugo nominations are a fairly simple affair. You join the World Science Fiction Convention (this year called Sasquan, and held in Spokane) for the year, either as a fully attending member or as a non-attending “supporting member” (this year costing $40). This entitles you to submit a nominating ballot for the Hugos, in which you can nominate up to five works in each category. The five eligible works in each category with the most nominations become the nominees, at which point voting happens.

Because the overwhelming majority of Hugo nominators simply pick their personal favorite five (or fewer) works in each category, this system is easily gameable with a small amount of organization, which is what happened in 2015, when Brad Torgersen and Theodore Beale (also known under his pen name, Vox Day) each released full slates of nominees and called on people to submit their exact proposed slates. Torgersen’s slate was called the Sad Puppies, while Beale’s was called the Rabid Puppies. The result was a large number of identical and near-identical ballots, which meant that the works on those ballots had more nominations than anything submitted by fans who were simply picking their personal favorites, despite the Puppy ballots making up only 12-25% of total ballots in a given category.

Specifically, it was Theodore Beale’s slate that dominated - in the initially released set of nominations, the nominees in Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Editor (Long Form), and Best Editor (Short Form) were simply the Rabid Puppies slate, verbatim. All told, 58 of the 67 items on the Rabid Puppies slate were nominated, roughly two-thirds of the final ballot. (Subsequently, two works were disqualified, including one of the Best Novelette options, with the replacement work in that case not being from the Puppy slates, and two nominees belatedly rejected their nomination, including one of the Short Story nominees.)

Relatively unreported - and indeed misreported in most coverage of this, is the fact that the Sad Puppies largely failed. The two slates had heavy overlap, but ten works that were on the Rabid Puppies slate and not the Sad Puppies were ultimately nominated, compared to only three that were Sad but not Rabid. More to the point, two of those three were in the category of Best Semiprozine, a category in which Beale only proposed one nominee, meaning that there was only one instance of a Sad Puppy beating out a Rabid Puppy to a place on the ballot, compared to three Rabid Puppies that made the list over a Sad one. In the only category in which both Beale and Torgersen proposed full slates, Best Short Story, Beale’s nominees made it.

This last fact is particularly relevant, because the Sad and Rabid Puppies, though obviously related, have distinct agendas.

Part Two: What Puppies Want

Let’s start here with the Sad Puppies, although they are in practice the less important of the two slates. They are, however, the older; this is the third iteration of the Sad Puppies movement, which focused in previous years on getting a single work nominated into each category before this year expanding to full slates that would allow it complete control of major categories. Three days after unveiling his slate of nominees, Torgersen wrote an essay explaining the necessity of the slate in terms of the “unreliability” of contemporary science fiction, writing:
A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.  
These days, you can’t be sure.  
The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings? 
There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land? 
A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women. 
Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues. 
Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy. 
Do you see what I am trying to say here?
There are several things worth noting here. First and most obvious is the spectacle of a grown man complaining about how he just can’t judge a book by its cover anymore. Second, and hardly something that Torgersen has tried to hide, is the basic political aspect to this complaint. Observe the list of things that Torgersen does not want in his science fiction: racial prejudice and exploitation, sexism and the oppression of women, gay and transgender issues, the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

Obviously, as histories of science fiction literature go, this is not exactly the most accurate; it is hardly as though science fiction of the 1960s-80s (the period Torgersen highlights as the sort of authentic science fiction that doesn’t get Hugo nominations anymore) was not largely about these exact issues. A perusal of the Hugo winners over those decades will reveal wins for Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land , a book about sexual freedom and prejudice; for Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness , an early and major work of feminist science fiction; Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves , which features an alien race with three genders, all of which must participate in sexual reproduction; two wins for Octavia Butler, whose work is massively focused on race and gender issues… we could continue like this for a long time. The idea that science fiction, in the sense that the Hugo Awards have ever cared about it, is an apolitical genre of thrilling adventure fiction is simply not supported by any sort of historical reality.

And, of course, there’s the second obvious point to make, which is that it’s not the 1980s, and hasn’t been for more than a quarter-century now. The suggestion that any genre ought resist evolution and development over the course of twenty-five years is a strange one; to make the claim about a genre ostensibly about the future is even stranger. Simply put, ideas get old and played out, and art requires people to come up with new ones to maintain a sense of freshness. This, in particular is a point we will return to later.

I explain all of this simply to suggest that Brad Torgersen, whatever his merits may be in any other arena in which he may be judged, is an absolutely terrible critic of science fiction. It will not surprise anybody, and this too is a point we will return to in some detail, that he has terrible taste in science fiction as well.

But as we’ve seen, it’s not really Torgersen who is most important here; it’s Theodore Beale. Although we ought not treat these as unrelated matters. The Rabid Puppies were the slate that actually dominated the Hugos nominations, but the Sad Puppies give every appearance of having been actively constructed to allow them to. In five of the six categories swept by Rabid Puppies, the Sad Puppies slate consisted of fewer than five nominations, with Beale’s slate simply taking the Sad Puppies and adding some of his own selections, in virtually every case things published by his own small press, Castalia House, or, in the two Best Editor categories, simply for himself outright. In other words, the Sad Puppies slate left exactly enough gaps for Beale to, in most major categories, fill them out. Beale’s slate came out a day after Torgersen’s, and featured a logo by the exact same artist who did the logo for the Sad Puppies, with the two logos clearly containing the same set of cartoon dogs. 

None of this, of course, is actually evidence that Torgersen and Beale collaborated on their slates, but given that the argument that a right-wing takeover of the Hugos was necessary is predicated in part on the baseless claim that left-wing writers privately conspired to create nominating slates, it hardly seems out of line to point out. Especially because, regardless of Torgersen’s intentions, the practical result is that he’s providing the politely moderate front for a movement that is in practice dominated by Theodore Beale. And whether or not that was Torgersen's intention from the get-go, with the nominations out and the comparative success of the Rabid Puppies to his slate, it’s something he’s clearly, at this point, doing deliberately when he opts to be the public face of the movement, a fact that becomes increasingly obvious as he visibly realizes how self-defeating his alliance with Beale is and tries to backpedal on it.

Because one thing you can definitely say about Theodore Beale is this: he’s not shy about his views. He opens his Rabid Puppies slate (released the day after Torgersen’s) by explicitly declaring what is only implicit in Torgersen’s slate: that this is about politics. “We of the science fiction Right do not march in lockstep or agree on everything,” his post begins, making clear from the outset that the purpose of the slate is to try to get a more right-wing set of Hugo nominations.

Similarly, he is blunter than Torgersen about how he would like people to use their Hugo ballots. Torgersen makes much of empowering fans, saying that the slate “is a recommendation. Not an absolute,” and stressing that “YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.” Beale, on the other hand, discourages his readers from exercising any personal preference, saying of his recommendations that “I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are.”

But this begs the question of what Theodore Beale’s opinions on matters related to science fiction and fantasy are. And, given that these opinions are seemingly inextricably related to his particular right-wing politics, it’s worth unpacking those as well.

This is going to be ugly, I’m afraid.

Part Three: The Unbelievable Noxiousness of Theodore Beale

Theodore Beale is a neo-fascist.

Like most neo-fascists, he is not fond of this characterization. This is not particularly relevant, as we’ll establish shortly, but for now let’s set it aside and focus on a more easily defended observation, which is that Theodore Beale is a staggeringly odious person with some of the most breathtakingly repugnant views imaginable.

Let’s take a brief tour of some of the amazing things that Theodore Beale has said.

In an essay entitled “Why Women’s Rights are Wrong,” he came out against women’s suffrage, saying, “The women of America would do well to consider whether their much-cherished gains of the right to vote, work, murder and freely fornicate are worth destroying marriage, children, civilized Western society and little girls.” He has repeatedly reiterated this basic conclusion, which, to be fair, is basically the title of his essay restated. Elsewhere, he spoke favorably of acid attacks on feminists, saying that “a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages.”

Talking about the black science fiction writer NK Jemisin, he proclaimed her to be a “half savage” and claimed that “genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens” while insisting that this didn’t mean that he didn’t think she was human - just, apparently subhuman. Not that he’d ever be so crass as to use the word. (Elsewhere, he proclaims that “it is absurd to imagine that there is absolutely no link between race and intelligence,” and makes it clear that he thinks the link is that people of African descent are less intelligent than white people. He is a classic proponent of the age-old practice of scientific racism, which was, just to point out, one of the intellectual pillars of National Socialist ideology.)

He has proclaimed that “homosexuality is a birth defect from every relevant secular, material, and sociological perspective,” in the course of arguing for the validity of conversion therapy, a practice that is, in point of material fact, directly correlated with increased suicide rates among its patients compared with populations who are allowed to freely express their sexualities with other consenting adults.

He has said, in a quote that really requires very little framing, that “in light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban's attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

These are merely the most chilling highlights of a lengthy career of saying absolutely appalling things. The rabbit hole stretches down at horrifying length. But these quotes are sufficient to establish the sheer awfulness of Beale’s views. These are not merely the sort of sexist and racist views that lurk within mainstream discourse. These are views so gobsmackingly outside of the realm of what it is socially acceptable to think and say in 2015 that it is impossible to imagine them getting aired in any major newspaper. Fox News wouldn’t touch them. The Republican Party would demand the resignation of any elected official who said them. It is difficult to imagine any area where such views could openly hold major sway.

But past that… Theodore Beale is just a mean, nasty person. That’s really the only way to characterize someone who says things like “I did not game the 2014 Hugo Awards. After being falsely accused of doing so by numerous parties, I decided to demonstrate the absurdity of the accusation by gaming the 2015 Awards. I trust my innocence with regards to the 2014 Awards is now clear and I look forward to receiving apologies from those who falsely accused me.” Or who vows that if Hugo processes just as valid as the ones he used to game the ballot are used to keep any of his favored works from winning, he’ll organize his supporters to ensure that no work ever wins a Hugo again. These are the strategies and approaches of a vicious, mean-spirited, bully.

So Beale is a sexist, racist, homophobic extremist and a jerk to boot. I said neo-fascist, however, and that’s a different fish to fry, and one that’s going to require a brief jaunt into the nature of fascism. For now, let’s stick to a couple simple claims about Beale’s positions - claims that may not initially seem to have anything like the implications of his coming out in favor of the Taliban’s attack on Malala Yousafzai, but that we’ll get around to untangling. Specifically, Beale explicitly identifies with the neoreactionary movement, and describes himself as a Christian dominionist. And both of these, to anyone even glancingly familiar with far-right extremism, are red flags.

Part Four: On Fascism

I mentioned at the outset that this was not going to be a piece that made much of an effort to convince fascists not to be fascists. Here this becomes particularly important. I am not going to bother trying to refute all or even most of the many arguments that Theodore Beale has made for his positions. I am assuming, at this point, that you, as a reader, are in no way on the fence about fascism, that it is not a viewpoint you are seriously considering, and that you are appalled at Theodore Beale’s beliefs and disturbed by the fact that he has influenced a major and historic literary award.

Therefore, let’s not engage Beale on his own terms. The easiest mistake to make when trying to understand fascists is to think that they are best described in terms of a philosophy - as though fascism is a set of tenets and beliefs. This is a mistake that largely benefits fascists, who are generally disinclined to actually call themselves fascists, since they recognize that, much like “Nazis,” it’s not exactly a label that does a great sales job. On top of that, fascists have a remarkably well-developed vocabulary of jargon and a propensity for verbose arguments that puts me to shame. What this means is that if you attempt to get into some sort of practical, content-based argument with a fascist, you will suddenly find yourself staring down a thirty item bulleted list with frequent citations to barely relevant and inaccurately described historical events, which, should you fail to address even one sub-point, you will be declared to have lost the debate by the fascist and the mob of a dozen people on Twitter who suddenly popped up the moment you started arguing with him.

No, the useful way to understand fascism, at least for the purposes of Beale, is as an aesthetic - as a particular mix of fetishes and paranoias that always crops up in culture, occasionally seizing some measure of power, essentially always with poor results. It can basically be reduced to a particular sort of story. The fascist narrative comes, in effect, in two parts. The first involves a nostalgic belief in a past golden age - a historical moment in which things were good. In the fascist narrative, this golden age was ended because of an act of disingenuous betrayal - what’s called the “stab in the back myth.” (The most famous form, and the one that gave the myth its name, being the idea that German Jews had betrayed the German army, leading to the nation’s defeat in World War I.) Since then, the present and sorry state of affairs has been maintained by the backstabbers, generally through conspiratorial means.

The second part is a vision of what should happen, which centers on a heroic figure who speaks the truth of the conspiracy and leads a populist restoration of the old order. The usual root of this figure is (a bad misreading of) Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch - a figure of such strength that morality does not really apply to him. He’s at once a fiercely individualistic figure - a man unencumbered by the degenerate culture in which he lives - and a collectivist figure who is to be followed passionately and absolutely. A great leader, as it were. (This is, counterintuitively, something of a libertarian figure. Ayn Rand’s heroes - the great and worthy men who deserve their freedom - are archetypal fascist heroes, because they rise up over the pettiness of their society and become great leaders.) It is not, to be clear, that all cults of personality are fascist, any more than all conspiracy theories are. Rather, it is the combination - the stab-in-the-back conspiracy theory coupled with the great leader that all men must follow - that defines the fascist aesthetic.

All of these tropes are, of course, immediately visible in the Sad/Rabid Puppy narrative of the Hugos. Torgersen’s paean to the olden days of science fiction is straightforwardly the golden age myth. The claim that a leftist cabal of SJWs, the details of which are, as is always the case with these things, fuzzy, but which at the very least clearly includes John Scalzi, Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and the publishing house Tor have since taken control of the Hugos is a classic stab-in-the-back myth. And the Puppy slates feature heroic men (Torgersen and Beale) who speak truth to power and call excitedly for the people to rise up and show their freedom by voting in complete lockstep with them. It’s a classically fascist myth, just like Gamergate (gaming used to be great, then the feminist SJWs took over the gaming press, and now Gamergate will liberate it) or Men’s Rights Activists (of which Beale is one).

Which brings us back around to Christian dominionists and neoreactionaries, two distinct but clearly related movements. The former are Christian theocrats reasonably characterized by Beale’s statement, “I believe that any civilized Western society will be a Christian one or it will cease to be civilized... if it manages to survive at all.” (Note the “if it manages to survive at all,” which displays one of the key characteristics of dominionists, namely their apocalyptic bent.)

Dominionism is not inherently fascist, in that it does not inherently require the belief that there was a Christian theocracy that’s been undermined, but it’s certainly an ideology that can turn fascist without much difficulty - start from a premise about the spiritual degeneration of society, and you can probably come up with the fascist version of the narrative in your head. Otherwise, just turn on Pat Robertson or someone. (Certainly Robertson would have been an influence on Beale; Beale’s father, the tax protester Robert Beale, worked for Robertson’s 1988 Presidential campaign while the younger Beale was in college.)

A peculiarity of dominionist fascism, however, is that its stab-in-the-back myth tends to take place over a slightly longer historical scale than, say, the 1960s, instead encompassing centuries of secularization and spiritual decay.

In this regard, it’s an easy cousin for the neoreactionary movement, which calls for an end to liberal democracy (“pseudo-democracy,” in Beale’s parlance), which it views, along with the rest of the Enlightenment, as a disastrous wrong turn away from monarchic, aristocratic, and feudalist forms of government. This is, of course, just one big fascist narrative - a golden age of feudalism, a stab-in-the-back by what neoreactionaries call the Cathedral (essentially a distributed and leaderless conspiracy that constitutes the general consensus that democracy and human rights are good ideas), and a nice ubermenschian hero narrative that comes out of the movement’s historical roots in libertarianism, which it considers itself to split from largely because most people aren’t fit to have freedom.

This is what Theodore Beale self-identifies as: a straight-up fascist fantasy with a weirdly long sense of political scale.

Part Five: Trolling the Voice of God

Vox Day with a literal flaming sword. Your argument is invalid.
Having identified Beale’s beliefs, let us try to understand their consequences. To this end, let’s look at one of Beale’s picks for the Best Related Work category, a book called Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth , by John C. Wright, who Beale recommended for a staggering six nominations, including three of the five slots in Best Novella (a category where four of the five works are published by Beale’s micro-publisher Castalia House). Beale has described Wright as “one of the true grandmasters of science fiction,” and Wright shares both the bulk of Beale’s politics and his propensity for being a jerk. Which makes this book particularly useful, as it is largely Wright’s thoughts on how science fiction and fantasy ought to be.

The title essay of Wright’s collection gets off to a suitably fascist start, proclaiming that “anyone who does not sense or suspect that modernity is missing something, something important that once we had and now is lost, has no heart for High Fantasy and no taste for it.” He goes on to praise high fantasy as a genre with “a healthy view of the universe,” a view characterized by three tenets: “(1) truth is true, (2) goodness is good, and (3) life is beautiful unless marred by sin and malice.”

So, off the bat we have a vision of the world based on a nostalgic and lost golden age, and one with a sense of absolute authority that is clearly rooted in Christian theology. And he goes on to nail this down, describing “four stages of a path of decay towards the nihilist abyss” and proceeding to list science fiction writers that epitomize each stage. (Of particular note is his attack on Ursula K. Le Guin, who he faults for the way in which her works feature “a hidden truth, a truth that cannot be made clear,” or, perhaps more bluntly, because she works in metaphor.) In contrast stands a Christian view of magic (which Wright also, and not entirely unreasonably, argues is the purview of science fiction) where “there is an authority, a divine and loving Father who has both the natural authority of a parent and of a creator and of a king.”

At this point Wright transitions to his nominal subject, the idea of transhumanism, rejecting it because the fundamental inescapability of sin means that humans cannot create perfect people, and that anything they did create would be inhuman, proclaiming that “creatures without souls but with intellects capable of free will are devils.”

There is, for all of this, relatively little to actually argue with Wright about. He spends four thousand words, in effect, arguing that from a Christian perspective, science fiction and fantasy should be consistent with Christian beliefs - Christian beliefs he describes in avuncular terms borrowed from Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It’s aggressively tautological, to say the least. So let’s instead simply poke at this as an aesthetic, that being the sense in which we are most interested in it anyway. Especially because the words he uses to discuss transhumanism are so evocative: “subhuman.” “Devils.”

This is not the first time in the course of this discussion that we have encountered the idea of subhumanity. We’ve already seen Beale call a black woman less human than he is. And his other description of her, “half-savage,” is similarly in the same rhetorical sphere as Wright’s descriptions of transhumanism, specifically the word “devil,” which carries not just theological weight, but the weight of a long history of racist imperialism, in which the colonized subjects were dismissed as “devils” by their white conquerors. (For example, Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” describes “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”)

I am, I suspect, hammering the point home for most readers at this point, but I nevertheless want to make it explicit what I am suggesting: if you got John C. Wright drunk at the bar, you could get him to admit that he thinks transhumanism and black people are ugly for the same reason. And if you couldn’t get John C. Wright to say it, you sure as hell could get Theodore Beale to.

Given this, I think it is not unreasonable to explore the intellectual possibilities of staking out positions that are as close to diametrically opposite Theodore Beale’s as possible. If he proclaims himself the voice of god, it seems to me an honor to serve as his Devil. It is, I am told, traditional to quote scripture for my purpose. Wright describes the Occultist, the third stage in the path of decay towards nihilism:
I don’t mean the word Occultist here to mean a palmist armed with Tarot cards. I am using the word in its original sense. I mean it is one who believes in a hidden reality, a hidden truth, a truth that cannot be made clear.
In the modern world, the Occultist is more likely to select Evolution or the Life-Force as this occult object of reverence, rather than the Tao. Occultists, in the sense I am using the word, explicitly denounce no religion nor way of life except the religion of Abraham, whose God is jealous and does not permit the belief in many gods, nor the belief in many views of the world each no better than the next. 
Postmodernism, which rejects the concept of one overarching explanation for reality, is explicitly Occultic: the truth is hidden and never can be known. 
Occultists tend to be more wary of the progress of science and technology than Cultists or Worldlies. They see the drawbacks, the danger to the environment, and the psychological danger of treating the world as a mere resource to be exploited, rather than as living thing, or a sacred thing. 
The Occultists believe in undemanding virtues, such as tolerance and a certain civic duty, but even these are relative and partial. There is beauty in his world, indeed, the beauty of nature is often his only approach to the supernal, but that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there is no absolute truth and very little goodness aside from good manners and political correctness.
As a PhD in English with no small amount of training in postmodernism and the recent publisher of a book that proclaimed itself “An Occultism of Doctor Who," I feel some qualification to speak here, secure in my conviction that John C. Wright and Theodore Beale recognize me as exactly what I am.

Where Wright is simply mistaken is the third paragraph quoted, in which he equates postmodernism with the occult. It is not, to be clear, that this is an unfair equation, although the occult is not necessarily postmodern (Aleister Crowley, for instance, is an arch-modernist) nor is the postmodern necessarily occult (indeed, very little of postmodernism can be accurately described as “explicitly Occultic”). Rather, it is the equivalence of the statement “there is no single overarching explanation for reality” with the statement “the truth is hidden and never can be known.” This is, simply put, a false statement, and the reasons ought be self-evident with only a moment’s thought. The problem is the belief that “single overarching explanation for reality” and “truth” are inherently synonyms, a viewpoint that excludes the perfectly sensible possibility that there are multiple reasonable explanations for reality floating, all of which are, if not true in some divine metaphysical sense, at least seemingly good enough to use without causing any major problems that we can see, and that doesn’t even necessarily mean that there isn’t such a thing as a single true explanation that is right in all regards, it just means that any such explanation is something well beyond our current understanding of the universe, and probably not relevant to very many practical situations.

Indeed, this is perhaps the biggest way in which Beale and his supporters (charitably) misunderstand or (more likely) misrepresent progressive opponents. It is not that progressives embrace tolerance as an absolute virtue, hypocritically or otherwise - I know of few, if any, who would actually claim to tolerate all viewpoints except inasmuch as they do not believe that anyone should be prosecuted by the government purely for their beliefs (as distinct from their actions). For my part, at least, my objection to Beale and Wright's politics is not that I am tolerant and they are intolerant. It is that I think that homosexuality, women's suffrage, and racial diversity are all good things and that fascism, racism, and misogyny are all bad things, whereas they think the exact and precise opposite.

But perhaps the more interesting, and certainly the more extraordinary consequence of this seemingly benign observation that progressives do not so much reject absolute truth as they don't think it's usually the most important thing to consider in a given practical situation is the fact that John C. Wright believes that he has access to the singular truth of reality’s basic nature. And, perhaps even more extraordinarily, this fundamental truth about reality, this voice of god that he claims to hear (and he does explain his beliefs in part in terms of a religious experience) is telling him that it is the Divine Will that he get people to understand that The Legend of Korra is really rubbish. (No, really. He told the creators of that children’s cartoon that they “are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship. Contempt, because you struck from behind, cravenly; and hatred, because you serve a cloud of morally-retarded mental smog called Political Correctness, which is another word for hating everything good and bright and decent and sane in life.” And, of course, note that evocative phrase: “you struck from behind, cravenly.” Did they stab you in the back, John C. Wright? Is that what you’re trying to say?)

But why talk about a man who only hears the voice of god when we have the self-proclaimed Vox Day himself, Theodore Beale. Let us simply delve into some of the verbiage this self-appointed god has spewed forth to the world. To start, his recent interview with John Brown, where he clarified his views on race and intelligence in helpful depth, and specifically his claim that black people are less human than others. He says:
My response to those who claim I am racist or misogynist is simple: why do you reject science, history, and logic? It is not hateful to be scientifically literate, historically aware, and logically correct.

1) Pure Homo sapiens sapiens lack Homo neanderthalus and Homo denisova genes which appear to have modestly increased the base genetic potential for intelligence. These genetic differences may explain the observed IQ gap between various human population groups as well as various differences in average brain weights and skull sizes.
2) Yes, East Asians have been observed to have considerably higher IQs than Southeast Asians.
3) The Chinese. Their average IQ is higher than the Ashkenazi Jews, who are genetically a refined group of Semitic-Italian crosses. To be more specific, the highest average IQ is found in Singapore.
4) No, the genetic groups are the Homo sapiens sapiens/Homo neanderthalus crosses, the Homo sapiens sapiens/Homo neanderthalus/Homo denisova crosses, and the pure Homo sapiens sapiens. These broadly align with Europe, Asia, and Africa, but not exactly.

Now, the first thing to point out is that this is not in line with current scientific thought on the history of human genetics. The theory Beale is articulating here is that the species Homo sapiens sapiens emerged out of Africa and spread across the world, and in the course of doing so interbred with two other species, Homo neanderthalus in Europe, forming the white race, and then, subsequently, Homo denisova in Asia (which, in the course of early human migration, would also mean in the native populations of the Americas). Historically speaking, this did happen, but the relative impact on the human genome is generally thought to be minor by mainstream scientists, with socioeconomic factors being considered a far more likely explanation for statistical variations among different ethnic populations.

Brown pushes Beale on this point in the interview. Here is the exchange:

Brown: Let me see if I’ve captured your overall approach. You feel it’s important to examine and conduct science without regard to political correctness. For example, if Vanhanen and Lynn say IQ is genetic, you feel the most appropriate thing to do is not attack them for being racists, but simply examine their data and conclusions dispassionately. It’s important to question it. Argue with it. Try to falsify, as we do with any other scientific claim. But not dismiss it simply on the basis that it doesn’t agree with our what we feel is morally right. Correct?

Beale: Yes. Science and history and logic exist regardless of whether we are happy about them or not. We have to take them into account.

Brown: It appears the Lynn & Vanhanen book suggests the genetic IQ differences were caused, not by Homo crosses, but by natural selection operating in colder climates over long periods of time. Can you provide another reference that discusses the DNA tracing and IQ correlation of the various crosses?

Beale: There are many articles on the Internet about DNA and IQ, I suggest you simply search them out and read a few. The data is conclusive, the rationale explaining the data is not.

Brown: I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you said the rationale explaining the data is not conclusive. What do you mean by that?

Beale: Regarding rationale, the data is beyond dispute. But we cannot explain why the data is the way that it is, we can only construct various explanatory hypotheses. Historical explanations are, for the most part, scientific fairy tales, literal science fiction.

What is striking about this exchange is the way in which Beale’s language elides something. Look at the tension between his phrases: “science and history and logic exist regardless of whether we are happy about them or not” and “historical explanations are, for the most part, scientific fairy tales, literal science fiction.”  These two positions seem to tear at each other.

It is possible, of course, that Beale is simply an idiot, and is as unaware of this as it appears that Brad Torgersen is that he is complaining that it’s not the 1970s and he can’t judge books by their covers. In some ways, that is the comforting hypothesis. Alas, I do not think it is the correct one. I have spent no small amount of time looking at the mind of Theodore Beale, and I do not believe that this strange gap between two statements is an accident. He is a foolish and deluded man, but that is not the sort of fool he is.

If nothing else, Theodore Beale is a man of precision. His words accomplish what he means them to. He is a provocateur, and a troll. He enrages and stings and, yes, bullies. And he does so with brutal skill. He is a master of communicating a point that he is not quite willing to say, so that he can slither out of having to admit it.

Case in point, let us return to the claim that N.K. Jemisin and he “are not equally homo sapiens sapiens,” a viewpoint I characterized as thinking Jemisin is subhuman. But this is, in fact, slightly imprecise, albeit not in a way that changes the basic substance of the claim. In fact, it is not that Beale thinks Jemisin is subhuman, but that Beale believes his own genetics, which contain the Neanderthal and Denisovan genes, make him superhuman.

Ironically, we have already seen a near-perfect description of how best to engage with this sort of speech in the form of John C. Wright’s description of the Occultic. Ultimately, that’s all Beale is doing: he’s hiding what he actually means behind a paper-thin veil so that it is communicated with deniability. (Fittingly, the usual name for this rhetorical technique, a favorite of political campaigns of all leanings, is “dogwhistling.”)

Let us then pierce the veil. After all, we have already noted that the belief that the occult means a truth that is inaccessible is not a necessary component of the approach - it is sufficient to believe in a truth that has not yet been seen. Put another way, while Theodore Beale may remain smugly silent on the precise question of what he believes (or, more accurately, he may be so staggeringly verbose that he can wriggle out of any attempt to characterize his beliefs simply by spewing forth more words to articulate them with ever-growing precision and ever-shrinking coherence). So I will not attempt to construct some absolute explanation of Theodore Beale’s beliefs. Instead, I will construct a caricature of them.

A final quote of his, then:
I am claiming that societies are incapable of moving from full primitivism to full civilization within the time frame that primitive African societies have been in contact with what we consider to be civilization. It is a genetic argument. It takes that long to kill off or otherwise suppress the breeding of the excessively violent and short-time preferenced. African-American men are 500 times more likely to possess a gene variant that is linked to violence and aggression than white American men.
By civilization, of course, we already know that he means a vision of civilization rooted in his specific view of Christianity. So his belief is that African people are genetically incapable of forming civilization, which is why it took the Neanderthal interbreeding to allow for a population in which stable Christian governments (i.e. medieval feudalism) could take hold. Subsequently, these Christian societies spread the religion through the Neanderthal/Denisovan populations, who are even more genetically predisposed towards civilization.

So Beale believes himself (“a Native American with considerable Mexican heritage”) to be among those with the superior genetic sequences (which include his y chromosome along with his racial heritage) that allow him to be a representative of true civilization; that make him the perfect Vox Day.

But as with Wright, what is truly surprising here is not so much the justification for his holiness as the application. Were Beale to actually own up to the blatant implication of his views and to take up arms in defense of his blinkered view of civilization, he would at least be a fearsome beast - one whose monstrous grandeur demanded a serious response. Certainly this is what he would like us to think that he is. It’s what he suggests when he speaks about how “the Taliban’s behavior is entirely rational, it is merely the consequence of different objectives and ruthlessness in pursuing them,” the implication being that the problem with the Taliban is not their tactics but just the fact that they’re employing those tactics in the name of Islam and not Beale’s perverted mockery of Christianity.

But for all that Beale casts himself as the self-appointed end of history and the prophetic voice in the wilderness that will cast out the unbelievers, his holy mission is not about saving civilization from the forces of barbarism. It’s actually about ethics in science fiction awards. This is, to my mind, the amazing thing about Theodore Beale. It is not just that he is a frothing fascist, but that he believes that the best possible thing he can do with his magical genetic access to Divine Truth is to try to disrupt the Hugo Awards.

You will forgive me, dear readers, if I opt for a different god than him.

Part Six: In Which Several Very Lousy Pieces of Science Fiction (And One Lovely Story About Dinosaurs) Are Analyzed in Depth

But, of course, Theodore Beale’s delusions of grandeur themselves are not up for Hugo Awards; merely some stories he selected. It remains theoretically possible that Beale is one of those rare visionary outsider artists, or that his taste in science fiction is, unlike his taste in divine purpose, actually quite good. “Judge the stories, not Theodore Beale,” as his apologists would demand.

Let’s turn next, then, to some of the nominees for short story, if only because this will require us to slog through fewer words of fascist prose than any other category, and, perhaps more importantly, because all five works are available for free online. Here they are, if you want to read yourself.

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa
“Totaled” by Kary English
“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright
“On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
“Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet

Let’s start with “Turncoat,” as it follows nicely from Wright’s essay. The story comes from an anthology of military science fiction edited by Beale and put out under his press, and is a story about a war in a world in which transhumanist ideas have been practically realized. The narrator is a spaceship, described in fetishistic detail by Rzasa: “My suit of armor is a single Mark III frigate, a body of polysteel three hundred meters long with a skin of ceramic armor plating one point six meters thick. In the place of a lance, I have 160 Long Arm high-acceleration deep space torpedoes with fission warheads. Instead of a sword, I carry two sets of tactical laser turrets, twenty point defense low-pulse lasers, and two hypervelocity 100 centimeter projectile cannons.” Piloting the mech are a group of posthumans, who the narrator describes, saying that “The fragile grip with which they hold onto the remnants of their humanity is weakening. They call themselves posthumans, they adorn themselves with devices and the accouterments [sic] of machine culture, but they still cling to their flesh and to the outmoded ideas shaped by that flesh.”

The war, it emerges, is between the posthumans and the surviving humans, who the cybernetic and immortal posthumans want to destroy. Over the course of the story, the narrator’s sympathies gradually shift away from the posthumans, especially after they opt to abandon the practice of using living crews in favor of fully automated systems and threaten to reformat him for insubordination. (“I run a rapid analysis of the pros versus the cons of having my entire operating system rebooted and my memory banks wiped. The outcome is decidedly in favor of the cons. Whatever remains, it will not be me.”) Eventually, as the title would suggest, the AI narrator defects to the humans because, as he puts it, “I want to be more than the sum of my programming… I want to decide what sort of man I will become.”

The story is facile at best. The basic plot and themes are recycled from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was a similar series of philosophical explorations of machine intelligence dressed up in plots, although Asimov favored detective plots as opposed to paragraph-long lists of sci-fi weapons and descriptions of space combat. Posthumanity are just the all-conquering cyborgs in the mould of Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Borg, with “Integration” un-subtly standing in for “assimilation” or “upgrading.” The themes are similarly old hat - several paragraphs are spent discussing how the human ships “ took more risks than we did, even though their fragility is orders of magnitude greater than ours. They utilized tactics that did not appear to have a rational thought behind them, and yet, when the consequences are taken into consideration, their approach worked nearly as well as our eminently logical battle plan,” which reads like the bad rip-off of Kirk/Spock arguments that it is.

And, of course, all of this exists alongside the apprehension about transhumanism - an apprehension that has already taken a decidedly sinister turn after Wright. The story of how artificial intelligence eventually rose up and attacked humanity is similarly recognizable as a stab-in-the-back myth, which makes sense if one reads transhumanism, within Beale’s vision of science fiction, as little more than a dogwhistle for alternatives to Christian dominionism. Which means that the fiction reflects Beale’s views. They’re not separate issues. We can judge the fiction on its own terms, but when those terms are visibly in lockstep with Beale’s, we can’t simply ignore this.

Similar, though not identical themes appear in Kary English’s “Totaled” - a story about a scientist who had worked on transhumanist technology about cybernetics, and who gets into a car crash, which results in her being “totaled,” which is to say, being deemed to require medical care in excess of her value as a human being. And so, having been totaled, she is sent to her old lab, which is tasked with using her decaying brain in the technology she invented to finish what she’d been working on.

The politics of this are interesting - the underlying fear is, of course, that of the “death panels” that the Affordable Care Act supposedly introduced, but the concept of people being totaled is said to have “started back in the Teens when the Treaders put their first candidate in office,” which is a clear reference to the Tea Party and their use of the Gadsden Flag. That said, the situation that the Treaders inherit is one of chaos: “Healthcare costs were insane. Insurance was almost impossible to get.” Which is, to say the least, something of an indictment of the Affordable Care Act.

It is not, perhaps, surprising that English’s story would resist a straightforward political reading - it’s not one of the ones Beale published. Kary English’s politics are manifestly not Beale’s - she’s considerably more to the left, and explicitly does not support Beale. But equally, it's easy to see why Beale would be attracted to the story, given its skepticism of transhumanism and the innately pro-life bent involved in making horror out of the concept of people being declared “totaled." (Though frankly, one suspects Beale was more attracted to the fact that picking a pair of women alongside the other three authors, all of which he has professional relationships with, would give him cover. Ultimately, English, along with Annie Bellet, are being used as cheap pawns.)

(Beale’s agenda, by the way, is weirdly specific about transhumanism - he’s written a piece in this anti-transhumanism vein as well, called “The Logfile,” which is enough to suggest that the Singularity paranoia subgenre of fascist science fiction is actually a thing. Theodore Beale cares an awful lot about hating robots.)

As for the story’s quality, while I'll admit that the section's header of "very lousy" is in this case exaggeration, I'm hard-pressed to seriously call the story Hugo-worthy. Its main drama comes from the narrator’s gradual mental disintegration as her brain reaches the six month limit of the technique being used to preserve it and succumbs to perfusion decay. This is conveyed in gradual changes to the narration style - for instance, in one of the first real indications of the impending decay, the narrator notes that “motor functions fail always first, then speech. I guess I’m luck lucky not to have, not to have any of those.” It’s moving, effective, and the same trick that Daniel Keyes won a Hugo with in 1960 for his story “Flowers for Algernon.” So, if nothing else, it satisfies Torgersen’s apparent desire to undo fifty-five years of evolution of the genre of Hugo-winning science fiction.

A second approach within Beale’s nominees comes in John C. Wright’s “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds,” an explicitly Catholic story about all of the animals in the world gathering to discuss the future after the extinction of man. It’s straight-up allegory, in which the animals are, by the end raised up to have their turn as the sons of God. Much like Wright’s essay, there is something almost tautological about it - its appeal is based entirely on whether or not you think idiosyncratically Catholic dogma is intrinsically worthwhile and interesting. I personally do not.

Lou Antonelli’s “On a Spiritual Plain” is in a similarly theological vein - superficially non-denominational, but still a story that sees science fiction as a vehicle for exploring religion. In this case the premise is a world where the magnetic field causes ghosts to exist. The story deals with the human chaplain who ends up having to escort ghosts to the planet’s north pole where they can dissipate, and its main point is to draw a firm line between this materialist phenomenon and the notion of the soul, which is to say, its main point is more theological axe-grinding, although the story is non-denominational It does, however, end up sharing that sense of biological purity that characterizes Wright and Beale’s views. The idea of electromagnetic immortality is clearly in the vicinity of transhumanism, and is also firmly rejected by the story. The ghosts feel that they are wrong, and desire dissipation, some of them believing in a more legitimate afterlife, the main character included. As for quality, well, I at least can’t come up with a fifty-year-old story off the top of my head that it’s clearly ripping off, which is something, but equally, I can’t exactly say it’s thought-provoking or original.

(As for the political intentions of Antonelli, I’ll let him speak for himself as he praises the Sad Puppies movement: “It’s hard for people outside the U.S. to understand how badly our cultural elites were intentionally subverted during the Cold War by the Soviet Union. Most Americans are Christian, patriotic, and believe in a European-derived civilization. The children of the elites are not, and do not believe in these values. They think Christians are either bigots or stupid or both, America is evil, and European-based civilization is all that’s wrong with the world.”)

The final story on Beale and Torgersen’s slates, Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars,” was withdrawn on request of the author, and so I will mostly leave it alone. For what it’s worth, in my opinion it was the best of the five original nominees. I don’t have much to say for or against it. It’s perfectly decent.

But it’s worth noting, while we are discussing the Hugo nominations, that the state of science fiction and fantasy in 2014 was not such that “perfectly decent” is in any way a synonym for “best of the year.” None of Beale’s five nominees hold a candle to Charlie Jane Anders’s “As Good as New,” to pick a Hugo-eligible story of the sort that the Puppies were seemingly designed to keep out, and, more to the point, that they did. It’s published by Tor, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and by an author who was one of the first to speak out against the Puppies when they ran the table nominating, making her an author that Larry Correia, who founded the Sad Puppies movement two years ago, has explicitly acknowledged he has an issue with. It’s also an actually brilliant science fiction story first published in 2014, which just feels like something I should point out having spent rather a long time complaining about other people’s taste. If I’d have tuned in to this mess in time to have sent in a nominating ballot, I’d have nominated it. I recommend you go read it, just because it’s worth, after all of that, reminding yourself what good science fiction can feel like. Then when you get back, we’ll discuss one more story.

Right, so, instead of discussing the nominees that might have been - a discussion that really ought to wait until after Sasquan when the top fifteen nominees for each category and the vote totals are released and we can see what Theodore Beale kept off the ballot - let’s talk about one of the 2014 nominees, Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” simply because it is the story most often cited by Beale’s supporters when they talk about the awful and sorry state of the Hugo Awards.

This is, of course, ridiculous, as it’s by miles a better story than anything Beale nominated. For one thing, it’s actually well-written. There’s a poetic lilt to the language, which is soothingly iambic, like a story for a young child, which makes the emotional punch of it all the more acute. You can demonstrate this easily enough - here’s a passage from Swirsky’s story. Read it out loud, and pay attention to the way the language naturally falls into a rhythm:
If they built you a mate, I’d stand as the best woman at your wedding. I’d watch awkwardly in green chiffon that made me look sallow, as I listened to your vows. I’d be jealous, of course, and also sad, because I want to marry you. Still, I’d know that it was for the best that you marry another creature like yourself, one that shares your body and bone and genetic template. I’d stare at the two of you standing together by the altar and I’d love you even more than I do now. My soul would feel light because I’d know that you and I had made something new in the world and at the same time revived something very old. I would be borrowed, too, because I’d be borrowing your happiness. All I’d need would be something blue.
Then try a bit of Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat”:
My eight torpedoes are engulfed by the swarm of counter-fire missiles. The Yellowjackets explode in bursts of tightly focused x-rays, highlighted in my scans as hundreds of slender purple lines. My torpedoes buck and weave as they take evasive maneuvers. Their secondary warheads, compact ovoid shapes nestled inside their tubular bodies, shatter and expel molybdenum shrapnel at hypervelocities. Tens of thousands of glittering metal shards spray out in silver clouds against the void of space.
I expect the difference is intuitively clear. If not, let’s zero in on the comparative value of the phrase “I’d watch awkwardly in green chiffon that made me look sallow” and the image “their secondary warheads, compact ovoid shapes nestled inside their tubular bodies, shatter and expel molybdenum shrapnel at hypervelocities.”

Let’s also look at the scope of the story. In less than a thousand words, Swirsky moves among moments of silliness (“you’d walk with delicate and polite a gait as you could manage on massive talons”), moments of tenderness (“I’d pull out a hydrangea the shade of the sky and press it against my heart and my heart would beat like a flower. I’d bloom. My happiness would become petals”), and moments of utter and tragic sadness as the story’s real premise finally moves into focus in the closing paragraphs. More to the point, it mixes these - the detail of green chiffon early in the story acquires new resonance later when it becomes clear that these are the same dresses she’d already ordered for her now abandoned wedding. (And, of course, there’s the beautifully human detail of her picking a dress she knows makes her bridesmaids look sallow.)

So, with Swirsky we have more emotional range than… well, any of Beale’s picks, really. More than that, the story does more - its move from a flight of fancy to a strangely sweet description of a wedding to brutal tragedy and finally to a strange and uneasy rejection of its own premise as the narrator admits that her revenge fantasy - her desire to see the men who put her fiancee in a coma get eviscerated by a dinosaur - is wrong, and cruel, and yet still powerful. There’s nuance, and subtlety, and development. It’s artful, and beautiful.

And it’s everything that Theodore Beale and his ilk hate.

Part Seven: Notes On the Proper Handling of a Rabid Dog

It is this final image that sticks in the mind. Beale and his followers have demanded that we view science fiction as a binary opposition between two types of stories, and have engaged in childish antics with a literary award that has historically carried genuine weight in order to force the world to view it this way. Very well. Let us view it this way, since, in terms of the Hugos, we now have no other choice.

One of these two types of science fiction is capable of literary genius, is full of emotion and pathos, is surprising, is clever, and feels fresh. The other is warmed over retreads of decades old ideas that quietly but insidiously advance fascist ideologies.

I do not think that it is unreasonable to suggest that, given this choice, it is worth using one’s vote in the 2015 Hugo Awards to declare that the latter category is unworthy of any literary recognition or award. This is certainly the position I took publicly the day after the nominations were announced. It’s also a position that George R.R. Martin responded to by asking “are you fucking crazy?” So, actually, maybe the whole reasonableness thing is worth spelling out.  

First of all, let’s accept that this debate plays into Beale’s hands. He has been open about the fact that he is trying to disrupt the Hugo Awards, in active retaliation against accusations that his nomination last year via a smaller scale version of the Sad Puppies was him trying to disrupt the Hugos. Because that’s genuinely the sort of person he apparently is. Much like Brad Torgersen is a grown man who’s sad that he can’t judge books by their covers, Theodore Beale is a grown man who would rather break a nice thing than let someone else have it. Nevertheless, it’s done now. The only nominees for the Hugos in multiple categories were mediocrities chosen for the express purpose of advancing an absolutely loathsome set of viewpoints.

And in some ways this was the fate they always risked. The Hugo Awards, and science fiction fandom in general has always been a haven for eccentricities, which, let’s be honest, is part of why we’re seven thousand words into a discussion of how a fascist troll hijacked them. There are still, every year, people who vote No Award in the two Best Dramatic Presentation categories (which has, in practice, essentially been a popularity contest between Doctor Who and Game of Thrones fandoms for the past few years, with Game of Thrones winning), just to protest the category’s existence.

Perhaps more to the point, there’s a complex but existent system for voting to spite all of the nominees and not give a Hugo in a category for a given year in the first place. Which has been used only sporadically in the past, but due to the fact that the Hugos use a ranked ballot, does mean that Hugo voters have specifically given a rebuke to nominated works in the past, including the Theodore Beale last year, and, more historically, L. Ron Hubbard, who, when Scientology supporters bulk-nominated him for a Hugo in 1987, ultimately came in below No Award in the voting.

There is, in other words, ample precedent within the Hugo Awards for using them as a platform to make a statement. And if the Hugo Awards are ever to be used as a platform to make a statement, I think it is fair to say that the unequivocal repudiation of Theodore Beale and everything he stands for is the single most self-evidently important statement that they could possibly make in 2015. No, it won’t drive the fascists out of the Hugos. But it’ll stop ‘em in 2015, and we can fight 2016 in 2016.

A word on this larger fight, however. While I obviously hope that the analysis of Beale’s motivations and actions is sufficient to convince a majority of readers of the degree to which he is a problem that requires addressing, I am aware that there remain a substantial block of people who are willing to ally themselves with Theodore Beale despite the problems, both obvious and otherwise, with him.

Indeed, this is clearly becoming something of a pressing issue among Puppy supporters, with both Torgersen and Correia (the original founder of the Puppies movement) recently writing pieces sort of distancing themselves from Beale. The general tone of both of these was the same - pointing out that they don’t agree with Beale on everything, and that they can’t control him. Which is I’m sure true. Theodore Beale cannot be controlled. That’s what being a rabid dog means, really, and why there’s a generally agreed upon course of treatment for one. But I’d like to point to a telling moment in Correia’s apologia, in which he said, “Look at it like this. I’m Churchill. Brad is FDR. We wound up on the same side as Stalin.”

There are two things to say about this. The first is “wait, if you’re Churchill, Torgersen is FDR, and Beale is Stalin, then in this analogy, the people who thought the Hugo Awards were fine the way they were are…” The second is somewhat less glib: how, exactly, did anyone “wind up” here? One does not simply “wind up” allied to Josef Stalin. This is a process that requires some effort. It is a process during which one is afforded many opportunities to stop and say “wait a moment, I seem to be allying with Josef Stalin, maybe I should reconsider my life choices.”

And I think it’s fair to ask why Larry Correia is disinterested in taking any of these opportunities. Similarly, I think it’s fair to point out the relatively low bar that Correia is seeking to clear when proclaiming “I Am Not Vox Day.” True, he is not the Taliban-fetishizing racist who proclaims himself the voice of god. He’s just the guy standing next to him and riding his coattails.

Elsewhere, Correia says that “most of me and Brad’s communication with Vox consists of us asking him to be nice and not burn it all down out of spite.” I have no trouble believing that - certainly it's easier to believe than Brad Torgersen's earlier claim that Beale is "a gentleman." But why are they willing to work with such a man to accomplish their goals? What is it about this man who thinks that God imbued him with magic genes and a divine quest to make science fiction more fascist said “good ally” to them? What seemed so important about getting some stories they liked Hugos that they decided it was worth allying with Theodore Beale to do it? Because if we’re making World War II analogies, the really disturbing thing isn’t a deranged sadist like Hitler doing terrible things. That's what deranged sadists do, after all. The really disturbing thing is all the people who knowingly voted deranged sadist.

I get why a man listens to what he thinks is the voice of god. But Torgersen and Correia? What's their excuse?

Part Eight: God Will Bury You. Nature Will Bury You.

That covers the actual response in terms of the Hugos. But there are other ways to make a statement, and the award ceremony is not necessarily the best one. So allow me to make another sort. One that will discard all traces of the Occultic, and engage in nothing save for the most explicit clarity that I can muster.

I have not always been the most faithful of science fiction readers. I don’t read a ton of novels in a year, and those that I do tend to be from a select few favorite authors. But since I was a child, I knew the phrase “Hugo Award” carried weight. I knew they mattered, and that they pointed towards stories that might not be things I loved, but would always be things I respected. As an adult, I’ve followed them from afar, never weighing in on the major categories, but having Firm Opinions on the minor ones. I rejoiced in Doctor Who ’s three-year streak, politely disagreed but understood why Doctor Horrible beat Moffat in 2009, largely agreed with “Blackwater” winning in 2013, and until this year thought that the victory of Gollum’s acceptance speech at the MTV Movie Awards in 2004 was the biggest travesty in Hugo history.

Likewise, in “Best Graphic Story” I laughed as Girl Genius won three years ago, hilarious evidence of how out of line the Hugo voters were with most comics fans (although it’s not a bad comic, to be fair - as always, the Hugos were a reliable indicator of quality, if not a sane one). I cheered when Ursula Vernon’s Digger , a weird webcomic eligible because of some print collections, won a shock victory in 2012 - a choice that’s just as weird as Girl Genius , but that aligns perfectly with my own idiosyncratic loves. I love that the awards went to Saga in 2013, then XKCD in 2014, both brilliant choices, and yet so wildly far apart in style and even medium. What other award would or could do that?

I love the Hugos. I haven’t participated in them before, but I have loved them since childhood, and I love them to this day.

Fuck you, Theodore Beale.

Fuck you for trying to break a thing I loved. Fuck you for doing it to serve your stupid, lame fascist ideology. More to the point, fuck you for your stupid, lame fascist ideology. Your beliefs are horrible. You’re horrible. You’re a nasty, cruel little bully, and I do not like you.

Fuck you for making me feel that way. Fuck you for the way you’ve brought this thing that I love, this celebration of great science fiction, to a point where it is full of the sort of mean and hateful desires that seem to animate you. Fuck you for dragging us all down to your sorry level. Fuck you for being so odious that we have to go there.

And fuck you for making me want you to hate me. Fuck you for all of your beliefs that amount to nothing short of hatred for the things I love. For the people I love. For the art and beautiful things that are why I get out of bed in the morning. Fuck you for living your life for the sole purpose of destroying things that I love, and for making me wish that I could destroy something of yours in retaliation. Fuck you for making me write this, in the sincere and passionate hope that it will make you feel even a moment’s unpleasantness.

And fuck you for the very real possibility that a work nominated purely because you used your noxious little voice to rally your loathsome, asshole supporters to support it might win a Hugo Award. Fuck you because it’s actually possible that you will break the Hugos successfully and demonstrate that you’re oh so much stronger than a bunch of fans who were previously just happily attending a convention and voting for stuff they loved in awards. In short, fuck you.

I would also like to make two things very clear.

First of all, you are wrong, Theodore Beale. You are the emperor of a tiny patch of shit, and if you are remembered, it will only be as a joke. You are not a great man. Yours is not the voice of god, but just the voice of a sad, pathetic man. You will die, and everything you wrote will be lost to the sands of time, and everything you valued will become a half-forgotten relic if it becomes anything at all. Nobody will care. The world you want will never arise.

Instead will be the future. There will be new things, and new ideas, and some of them will be better than any idea I’ve ever had, and virtually all of them will be better than any idea you’ve ever had. The future will not be made of the ideas of the 1970s, or the 1870s, or the 1770s, or before. It will be made of ideas that you and I have never imagined. And it will be amazing. And if there is an afterlife from which you can watch the future unfold, you will hate every bit of it.

But I don’t think you will. I think you will die, and when you are dead, you will just be dead, and moreover be forgotten, and that you will have never once tasted a morsel of the joy that Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” has brought to me.

Which brings us to the second thing.

You have already lost.

Sure, maybe you’ll take the Hugos, and you’ll give them an end date in historical relevance. No matter what, you’ve left an ugly footnote in the history of science fiction, like a puppy on a sidewalk. But the only reason you wanted to do that was because you were mad that we were having fun, liking the science fiction and fantasy that we liked.

And guess what, Theodore Beale?

We’re still liking it. Stuff the ballot box all you want, but “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” was still a great story, and there’s nothing you can possibly do to change that. Take over a major industry award. Progressive science fiction will just move its critical praise to other awards, or to individual critics’ year-end lists. We will carry on, and we will identify and praise brilliant works of science fiction, and the stuff we like will endure in history while the stuff you like is forgotten.

This is not, to be clear, a threat. I am not proposing some counter-slate for 2016, or some set of tactics of resistance. I’m simply offering a sober and considered assessment of the likely critical future of the two schools of science fiction that you and your followers have articulated, and suggesting that the progressive, literary tradition that includes Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Rachel Swirsky, and many, many others is going to endure and thrive, whereas your stupid fascist nonsense will wither, and that none of your trolling and bullying is going to make a whit of difference in either our carrying on of the act of loving these works nor in their enduring reception. And while there are a lot of reasons for this, not least that our stories don’t suck and yours do, I think there’s one that really settles this matter straightforwardly and decisively.

We are, after all, talking about a genre that is about imagining the future. And in a debate over the nature of a genre about the future, it seems to me terribly obvious that the side that values the future and savors its imaginative possibilities is going to win out over the side that hates and fears it.

So to that end, here’s a celebration of some stuff that I bet Theodore Beale really hates.

Part Nine: I Want To Thank You For Dancing To The End

There are works on the Hugo ballot that were not selected by Theodore Beale. These are worth celebrating. So are many works that aren’t on the Hugo ballot, whether because of Theodore Beale or not. And so, to close, I’d like to focus on two categories near and dear to my critical heart, Best Graphic Story, and Best Dramatic Presentation. (With quick side notes about Best Related Work and Best Fan Writer.)

Let’s start with Best Graphic Story, a category where Beale had only one pick, inherited from Torgersen, and which thus has four nominees selected by traditional, good taste Hugo voters. In which case, they had a stunning year - the four non-Puppy nominees are certainly not my choice for the four best comics to fall under the genre heading of sci-fi/fantasy, but they’re all solidly deserving nominees. They also represent an interesting turn in Hugo taste, solidly towards the American direct market and away from webcomics, which had previously done very well at the Hugos. In the tradition of my weekly comics reviews, then, a tour from my least favorite to my favorite.

We’ll start with Rat Queens then, a book that mixes Dungeons and Dragons humor with genuine pathos in a story about a marauding band of four female adventurers in a medieval fantasy world. The book is not without controversy: the original artist was removed from the book after admitting to a domestic abuse charge, which is a genuine problem for an openly feminist book. But it is a feminist book, and one openly and deliberately invested in diversity. Even aside from the controversy, though, it’s, while fun, just not as interesting as the other three nominees this year.

Also up is Saga , which won in 2013, and was nominated in 2014. It’s a great sci-fi/fantasy epic, with brilliant characters. It’s lost some of the momentum it started with - I’m totally behind its 2013 win, and equally behind its 2014 defeat, where it was, I think, solidly inferior to the winner. But it’s a great book, and also one that is interested in diversity. There’s a great story in its creation where writer Brian K. Vaughn - one of the smartest writers in comics these days - noted to artist Fiona Staples that he really wanted the main female character to not be a redhead, because he thought redheads were cliched for the sort of character he was writing. Staples replied something to the effect of, “she doesn’t have to be white either, you know.” And she isn’t.

Also up is Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals , a book whose premise is endorsed by Margaret Atwood. Beale singled this out for criticism, or at least, for a really bitter and poor taste joke about Marion Zimmer Bradley, and its title is in the cheeky sense of humor that the book displays throughout. It’s a very funny book about sex and sexual hangups, told through a silly and charming premise, namely two people who can stop time when they orgasm, and so masturbate in bathrooms and rob banks. It’s fantastic and human and poignant and witty, and one of the best serialized stories being published in any medium right now.

And finally there is G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel . This is a superhero book out of, unsurprisingly, Marvel Comics. On one level, it’s your basic teen superhero concept - a riff on the old Lee/Ditko Spider-Man stories. But its main character is a Pakistani-American girl in Jersey City. She’s a character who has pleasantly enraged Beale and his ilk - here’s John C. Wright on the recent announcement that, following Marvel’s next big crossover, she’d be added to the roster of the Avengers:

“Meanwhile, the one and only person on the team with a clear religious identity is the Muslim girl. This is a religion which has, whether anyone admits it or not, declared war on the whole world, and has, whether anyone says so or not, adopted terrorism and stealth jihad as the main means to wage that war. This is the same as if, during World War Two, a comic book made one of their heroines a member of the Nazi party. But one of the those nice Nazi party members who do not approve of Hitler, or the other official doctrines, written in the official literature, of the organization to which she willingly belongs. Such a comic character would appeal to the moderate Nazis whom we do not wish to alienate, since, after all, Hitler highjacked the noble institution and motives of the Party.”

(Wright also complains that the new Avengers lineup lacks “any Christian White Male Adults who might act like a Father figure, a leader, an alpha male, a hero,” doing so, without a trace of irony, two sentences after decrying the word “Eurocentric” as nonsensical, just in case you’d forgotten that he is, quite separate from being a bigoted jerk, also a moron.)

It’s also just a fantastic comic. But more to the point, it’s a demonstration of how fundamentally wrong Beale, Torgersen, and all their supporters are. Because the entire reason the comic is good is the diversity it introduces. As I said, it’s on one level a rehash of the old Lee/Ditko Spider-Man stories - exactly the sort of “nothing new under the sun” comic that Torgersen would seemingly prefer. It’s about power and responsibility and growing up. Alphona’s scratchily cartoonish style even feels like a modern day equivalent to Ditko’s paranoidly visionary linework. If what you want is raw originality of ideas, Sex Criminals would beat it hands down.

Except that it turns out that taking the Spider-Man story and moving it from Brooklyn to Jersey City (and Ms. Marvel is fiercely and passionately from Jersey City, with an explicit ethos of taking care of her local community), grounding its ethics in a progressive vision of Islam (one that is not naive about the existence of other visions - Ms. Marvel’s older brother is a bit of a closed-minded bigot who is oppressively protective of his sister), and making the main character a millennial female geek (she has a team-up with Wolverine in which she gushes to him about the fanfic she wrote about him and Storm before, as is the nature of such team-ups, winning him over and convincing him of her worth as a superhero) makes it fresh and interesting again.

In other words, having a perspective on superhero comics based on something other than the white male father figure is good and interesting, and makes for better comics. Aside from any progressive argument for the value of having a teenage Pakistani-American Muslim girl as a superhero, doing so just plain turns out to be more interesting than white boys have been in years, for the simple and obvious fact that it’s something that we haven’t seen before instead of something we’ve been seeing over and over again since the 1960s. Ms. Marvel is awesome for the exact and specific reasons that Brad Torgersen and Theodore Beale are fools.

But what I’d really like to do is highlight an eligible work of science fiction that is brilliant and as diametrically opposed to everything that Theodore Beale holds dear as it is possible to be. Moreover, because of the specific damage that Theodore Beale did, I want to celebrate things that were not Hugo nominated. Not even things that I expect to have been on the long list - but things that were eligible. Ms. Marvel is a fantastic work that I’m glad got nominated, because I’m sure it pissed him off, but in terms of brilliant, Hugo-worthy stuff that spits in the face of everything Theodore Beale loves I think we need to talk briefly about Uber, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by a couple of artists.

What strikes me as particularly appealing about Uber is the fact that it so directly engages with the iconography of fascism. It is an alternate history World War II comic in which the Nazis, in the dying days of the War, turn the tide with the invention of superheroes. And Gillen is careful to work scrupulously within a set of rules. The mechanics of superheroes are as well-defined as any military technology, with much of the plot hinging on the gradual development of tactics for superhuman warfare. Everything is grounded in thorough historical research.

So the result is a brutally well thought out dissection of the intersections between the idea of the superhero and the fascist hero in all its post-Nietzschean glory. It’s right there in the title, Uber , a direct invocation of the idea of the ubermensch. Because make no mistake - the book is anti-fascist. It is a gruesome, explicit depiction of the material horror that was Nazi Germany. It’s a reminder that people like Theodore Beale are not harmless cartoon villains to laugh at, but horrible people responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history, and that war is not some happy fantasy of bringing righteous justice to the unworthy, but a miserable slog of human suffering.

But more than that, it’s a brilliant and nuanced exploration of the fascist narrative, and the ways in which it is deeply historically entwined with the history of science fiction as a genre. It is not the first book to do so, obviously. Norman Spinrad’s 1972 novel The Iron Dream , which imagines an alternate history where Hitler became a hack sci-fi writer in America, is probably the most notable in terms of just how much it anticipates this mess, although I’d argue that there is no greater parody of the Sad Puppies than J.G. Ballard’s 1968 “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan.” But it is an astonishingly thorough exploration of it - an uncompromising mix of material realism and genre tropes that feels staggeringly relevant today.

But I think what I love most about it, at least in this context, is that it purports to be exactly what the Puppies want: serious-minded military science fiction, with a focus on battle and combat and valor. It’s got spectacular gore and body horror. It’s dark as dark can be, and uncompromising. It holds nothing back, ever. Even its focus on strict rules has the flavor of wargaming, the obvious pinnacle of the Puppy aesthetic. And it takes all of these things and turns them cruelly and savagely against their supposed masters. The only reason Theodore Beale could possibly fail to hate it is if he’s too stupid to understand it. Which is, admittedly, a risk.

The other category I’d like to talk about is Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), in which an episode of Doctor Who , a series I have previously written about at some length, was nominated over several Beale-approved works (as was the openly progressive Orphan Black ). But since we’re about to talk about Doctor Who , I’d also like to address another category, namely Best Related Work, and a book that is often cited, like Swirsky’s story, as evidence of the appalling state of the Hugo awards, namely Chicks Dig Time Lords , an anthology of essays about Doctor Who by women, published by Mad Norwegian Press. (In one of life’s little ironies, the book beat out the first volume of a Robert Heinlein biography for the Hugo, a fact that is often cited as if it is self-evidently an outrage by supporters of the Puppy slates; the second volume of the biography was eligible for Best Related Work this year, but was not on Beale’s slate and did not get nominated.)

Though, actually, the book I want to talk about is Queers Dig Time Lords , which was nominated but did not win last year, and is treated as another one of those books that shows just how awful and degenerate the Hugos were. Simply because anyone objecting to that book and saying that it only got a Hugo nomination because of politics is simply ignorant of the history of Doctor Who , a series whose relationship with its gay fans has at several points been instrumental to its history, both in the 1980s when the internal BBC politics surrounding its openly gay producer John Nathan-Turner were a crucial factor in the show’s cancellation and in the 2000s when Russell T Davies, a longtime and active Doctor Who fan who had previously been best known for his groundbreaking gay drama Queer as Folk spearheaded the revival of the series that won three consecutive Hugos from 2006-08, and has been at least nominated every year since. To suggest that a book about gay Doctor Who fans is merely nominated for its social justice politics is, quite simply, a declaration of thundering ignorance about the subject matter.

But then, of all the categories in which the Puppies have marked their territory, there is perhaps none that reveals the rank hypocrisy of the movement quite like Best Related Work, where Beale and Torgersen pushed a book entitled Wisdom From My Internet on to the ballot despite the fact that it is not, in any meaningful sense, a book related to science fiction and fantasy, but instead a disjointed collection of the sort of right-wing bon mots that your idiot uncle spams on Facebook. That they and their supporters have the unmitigated gall to suggest that Queers Dig Time Lords was nominated purely for its politics while simultaneously pushing a political book (published under the banner Patriarchy Press, just to make sure nobody misses where its sympathies lie) that is not actually a related work is, in many ways, the epitome of this entire mess.

This also brings us to Best Fan Writer, and a somewhat obscure but nevertheless important point. There is one non-Puppy nominee in this category, Laura J. Mixon. The reason that Mixon is nominated is a blogpost she wrote entitled “A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names,” in which she meticulously outlined the appalling behavior of a left-wing troll within the science fiction community who wrote under the name Requires Hate, among others (there is reason to doubt that her legal name is known). It’s a corker, and deserves a Hugo. I think I might even vote for it over No Award.

The antics of Requires Hate have, for a variety of reasons, been compared to those of Theodore Beale, by people on all sides of the debate. Anti-Puppies compare Beale to her. Puppies point to her as evidence that the Anti-Puppies’ house isn’t in order either.

But in all of this, there is a comparison between Requires Hate and Theodore Beale that is not sufficiently remarked upon. One of the conclusions Mixon draws in her analysis of Requires Hate’s behaviour is that she “preferentially targets writers who are POC, women, and people from other marginalized groups, with a particular focus on people of Asian descent.” Requires Hate was a left-wing blogger who identified with several of the groups she abused people from, and was the sort of person Puppies call a “social justice warrior.” But the people she targeted and the people Beale's supporters target are the same group: women, people of color, and queer voices . To quote something that I first heard from Anita Sarkeesian, although I vaguely recall her crediting a source for it too, “in the game of patriarchy, women aren’t the other team, they’re the ball.” (It's worth here remembering Annie Bellet and Kary English, the two female authors Beale put on his short story slate, who have also ended up as victims of abuse in all of this.)

But as I said, I want to talk about Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form). Again, a brief word on the non-Puppy candidates, or, actually, in this case one of the Puppy candidates, Game of Thrones , a show I quite love. That said, I find the specific choice of episodes, “The Mountain and the Viper,” uncompelling. I think it was the weakest episode of the season in many regards - a case of Game of Thrones playing it safe and doing exactly what is expected of it after thirty-seven episodes. I have no problems deciding that if this is the episode Game of Thrones is to be judged on, it’s not Hugo worthy.

Similarly, for all that I respect Orphan Black , I don’t think it’s a show that serves up individual episodes of great merit. It’s fun on aggregate - a binge show. I wish it did what Game of Thrones did in its first season and compete as a long-form work, as it would be stronger there. Alas, it is here. On top of that, I wish it had nominated its most interesting episode, the one in which a transgender clone was introduced, bringing the complexity of gender as a concept into the view of its fascinating exploration of what defines us as people.

Which leaves Doctor Who , with the fantastic episode “Listen.” I would almost certainly vote for this in any year. It was a phenomenal piece of television. And as a long-time Doctor Who fan, I take genuine joy in knowing that Theodore Beale does not think this show is award-worthy. I suspect he dislikes its feminist message. Good. I love it, though I’m still gonna put No Award ahead of it.

But as with other categories, I think, given that Beale has flooded the Hugo ballot with crap, it is important to celebrate great works that are not on the Hugo ballot. And so to close, at last, I want to suggest one more work of science fiction that would have been eligible for a 2015 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Work (Short Form), not because I suspect Beale kept it off the ballot, but because I think he would absolutely detest it. Specifically, the music video for Janelle Monáe’s “Electric Lady.”


It is perhaps worth contextualizing this slightly, since the video depends in part on a general understanding of Janelle Monáe’s work. “Electric Lady” is the title single off her second full-length album, released in 2013, which contains the fourth and fifth parts of an ongoing song cycle she calls the Metropolis Suite. This cycle features her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, a time-travelling robot rebel from a Fritz Lang-inspired futuristic dystopia.

As this last fact suggests, Monáe is a keen sci-fi fan, and draws heavily from sci-fi iconography in her work, which falls squarely under the subgenre of afrofuturism, an artistic movement that uses the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to try to conceive of the African Diaspora not in terms of its tragic past but in terms of the generative potential of the future. The robot, for Monáe, is an all-purpose metaphor for the oppressed - as she puts it, “When I speak about science-fiction and the future and androids, I'm speaking about the 'other.' The future form of the 'other.' Androids are the new black, the new gay or the new women."

It is this that is why I want to close my discussion of Theodore Beale with her. Because this seems, in so many ways, like the polar opposite of everything he wants. Monáe, in embracing the robot as an image of all of the oppressed populations Beale scorns and despises, makes the idea into the very thing that Beale and Wright paint as a nightmarish vision of transhumanism.

As a song, “Electric Lady” is an anthem in praise of Cindi Mayweather, long on braggadocio, but framed in terms of Monáe’s carefully worked out vision of black female sexuality, as in the breakdown:
Gloss on her lips
Glass on the ceiling
All the girls showin' love
While the boys be catchin' feelings
Once you see her face, her eyes you'll remember
And she'll have you fallin' harder than a Sunday in September
Whether in Savannah, K-Kansas or in Atlanta
She'll walk in any room have you raising up your antennas
She can fly you straight to the moon or to the ghettos
Wearing tennis shoes or in flats or in stilettos
Illuminating all that she touches
Eye on the sparrow
A modern day Joan of a Arc or Mia Farrow
Classy, Sassy, put you in a razzle-dazzy
Her magnetic energy will have you coming home like Lassie
Saying "ooh shock it, break it, baby"
Electro, sofista, funky, lady
We the kind of girls who ain't afraid to get down
Electric ladies go on and scream out loud 
But the video cheekily grounds the song not in Monáe’s sci-fi vision, but in the mundane world of everyday black experience. The group is not the Electrified Ladies, as Monáe’s mother thinks, but Electro Phi Beta, a black sorority whose party Monáe is en route to as the video begins. This opening minute blends a look at the material reality of young black women with wry honesty - note, in particular, the affectionate grin as Monáe leaves, shaking her head at her mother’s confusion - with a strange set of iconography that is at once retro (the car the Electro Phi Betas take to the party has an 8-Track) and cutting edge (Monáe snaps a picture of her sisters using a state-of-the-art smartwatch).

And this aesthetic blend continues through the whole video, which is a classic dance party video of people getting down at the party (complete with the Electro Phi Betas Emeritus, a wall of video screens featuring women not at the party but dancing along with the party, in reality a variety of Monáe’s collaborators) featuring a crowd of contemporary youth, primarily but not exclusively black, simply having a good time as more and more revelers pour in, including, towards the end, a group of lightsaber-wielding linedancers, all joyously grooving to the music and celebrating their bodies and sexualities and identities and lives.

The result is to blend the musical traditions that inform Monáe’s music with the real lives of people, especially black people in 2014 and her vision of a sci-fi future, which is tied implicitly to the digital technology of the current age. None of these are things Theodore Beale would approve of. And he certainly wouldn’t approve of blending them together in the name of, as the lyrics put it, “all the birds and the bees dancing with the freaks in the trees.” It’s a celebration of the weird, the marginal, and the new. Of everything that Theodore Beale hates. It is difficult to imagine how you would even engineer something better suited to annoying him than afrofuturist robots extolling the virtues of getting down. And it’s wonderful.

But perhaps best of all, it is completely unconcerned with the likes of Theodore Beale. It does not seek their praise, which it would clearly never get anyway. It does not seek their antagonism, although it surely receives it. It does not consider itself for their consumption or use, and does not care one way or the other what they make of it. It simply loves itself, and its ideas, and the joy of them, and invites us to love them too.

While far away on the Internet, the self-proclaimed voice of god squawks its disapproval, and the future draws closer by the day.